The Littlest Kitten Drinks Cows’ Milk

My toddler (AKA Little Baker) is enamoured by a small cardboard book called The Littlest Kitten. The book contains an orange finger puppet head for the main character, a kitten. The Littlest Kitten.

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The Littlest Kitten; the biggest head.

I think the finger puppet head is the aspect that draws his interest. Also, the book is toddler-sized: perfect for tiny fingers. He likes to cuddle the book while breastfeeding, and he laughs when I animate the finger puppet. It is a very short book, only eight pages.

Despite its brevity, I have not read the book in its entirety to him. When I attempt to read it, Little Baker just keeps turning the pages, back and forth. He isn’t interested in the story at the moment.

This week, we were snuggled on the bed, and I was preparing to read it to him. He was turning the pages, back and forth. My daughter approached us: ‘Oh, I don’t like that book’, she announced. ‘I don’t now why he likes it so much’.

Naturally, a book that appeals to a toddler is unlikely to hold the interest of a 9 year old. Clearly, my daughter is not in the target age group* for this book, so I wasn’t surprised that she didn’t like it. But she seemed particularly passionate in her dislike.

What don’t you like about it? 

The floodgates opened:

‘It’s ridiculous’! she proclaimed. ‘It’s called the Littlest Kitten, but look at his head. It’s huge. He looks creepy’.

Just to drive home the point, she concluded with a dose of hyperbole: ‘It’s the creepiest kitten in history’!

Despite her distaste for the book about the ‘creepiest kitten in history’, she sat down with us as Little Baker and I flicked through the book.

I focused on pointing to the animals and naming them, while I read the text to myself.

I can now wholeheartedly assert that I’m not a big fan of the book either.

The reason? Page 4:

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The creepiest kitten in history drinks cows’ milk. That may explain the enlarged head!

‘The cow barn is our favorite place.

Sometimes I get milk on my face

“Drink your breakfast” Mom meows.

We love milk from happy cows’.

The mother cat implores her kittens to drink their breakfast – a bowl of cow’s milk.

This is ludicrous! Why are they drinking the milk of a cow, and not the milk of their own mother?

Cows’ milk – as a health beverage, and as a source of calcium – is so entrenched in our culture. Even the animals in our storybooks drink it.

Of course, the cow is a happy cow. She is happy that the kittens are drinking her milk. I suppose she is happy about her enslavement too.

Children are exposed to the myth of the ‘happy cow’ in storybooks, children’s TV shows, TV advertisements, and in the classroom. Cows are portrayed frequently as willing participants; benevolent givers of their milk. Calves are invisible in the happy cow narrative.

happycow

A ‘happy cow’

On a positive note, this book inspired a conversation with my daughter about the ‘happy cow’ myth. Specifically, cows aren’t happy about ‘giving’ their milk after all; they’d rather have their babies with them.

Furthermore, I do not normalise cows’ milk consumption to my children. When Little Baker is a little older, I will tell him that kittens drink their mother’s milk, and that cows make milk for their own babies.

I could get rid of the book by throwing it in the recycling bin (after decapitating the puppet head) or depositing it in a charity bin. But, Little Baker loves it. I don’t have the heart to make it disappear.

Besides, this type of book is a good educational tool. Parents can use the ‘non-vegan’ content to inspire discussion with their children about vegan values. We can promote empathy and compassion in our children by encouraging them to think about situations from the perspectives of the animal characters.

Also, we can talk to our children about biological norms – calves drink cows’ milk, human babies drink human milk, and kittens – even kittens with big heads – drink cats’ milk. 

***

* Oddly, the book’s back cover states: ‘Ages 5+’. Perhaps the puppet head is regarded as a choking hazard. The publisher is dreaming; the story is not engaging enough for kids aged 5 and over.

What is your child’s current favourite book? Does it promote vegan values?

Ally 

{A-Z:Veganism} C is for Carnism

C is for…

Carnism.

Carnism is a term coined by Melanie Joy, author, psychologist and vegan.

Carnism has been referred to as ‘an extremely important concept that has the potential to dramatically transform the way society thinks about eating animals.’ *

It has been termed a ‘revolutionary concept that neither animal advocates nor meat eaters can afford to ignore’. **

So, what exactly is carnism?

Quite simply, it is ‘the invisible belief system that conditions people to eat certain animals’.

Where I live, in Australia, it is perfectly ‘normal’ for people to eat chickens, cows and pigs (among others). It is regarded as inappropriate or repulsive for people to consider eating cats, dogs and budgerigars (among others).

Most people do not question this. It is just the way it is. I certainly never questioned it during my childhood and most of my adolescence.

As a child, I was served lamb, beef, chicken and fish on my dinner plates. Our companion animal friends were cats, dogs and mice.  I never thought twice about it. I didn’t stop to consider why some non-human animals were friends and some were food. I remember, as a young child, finding out that people in some meat-eating cultures ate dog meat. I was horrified! How could anyone do that? How could they be so callous?

I did not realise it at the time, but my beliefs were carnist in nature. I had been successfully inculcated with a carnist value system- from my parents, society and the media. I thought it was cruel to eat a dog, but normal to eat a cow. I never asked: why does one deserve my love, and not the other? 

At 19, I embraced veganism. I adopted vegan values because I recognised that all animals were worthy of my respect. Prior to veganism, I regarded myself as an animal lover. However, once I embraced veganism, I understood that true respect meant no longer eating animals. Now, the thought of eating any sentient being horrifies me. I no longer make the distinction between a cow or a dog or a chicken.

But carnism is more than a belief system that conditions us to eat certain animals -it is a belief system that conditions us to believe that eating meat is normal, natural and ‘value-free‘.

There is recognition that veganism – choosing not to eat animals and animal products -is rooted in a belief system, a philosophy.

But the same is true of meat-eating – although this is not usually acknowledged.

Choosing to eat meat- indeed, to eat animals –  is the manifestation of a belief system.

In Australia,  meat eating (non-veganism) is regarded as the ‘normal’ way of being. It is the default position. Anything that deviates from that, such as veganism, is regarded as different or abnormal.

Sometimes, vegan parents are asked whether they will ‘allow’ their vegan children to eat meat when they are older. I assume it is uncommon for non-vegan parents to be asked if they will permit their meat-eating children to be vegan when they are older.

Moreover, non-vegan parents don’t usually ask their young children if they want to eat animals. Yet, vegans are encouraged to give their children ‘a choice’.

Some vegan parents have been accused of  ‘forcing’ their values on their children, as though meat eating parents aren’t passing on a value system to their children – one that says ‘eating animals is acceptable and ethical’.

This demonstrates how deeply entrenched carnism is.

Most people do not recognise that they are subscribing to a belief system when they eat meat- a carnist belief system. Meat-eating is not value-free.

Meat eating is certainly more common than veganism in our society, but this does not mean that people should engage in meat eating without making a conscious choice to do so. I do not think that saying ‘it’s just the way it is’, ‘it’s the way it has always been’, or ‘everyone else I know is doing it’ is adequate. Not when the lives of millions of animals depend on our daily choices.

Melanie Joy states that eating meat is a choice, and ‘choices always stem from beliefs’.

When I broached this subject with a friend recently – that eating meat stems from a belief system; a belief system that says it is OK to eat animals – she told me that she ate meat because it is how she was raised. She appeared horrified that I had described it as stemming from a value system. Perhaps many people think like this.

I am truly grateful that I was able to remove my carnist blinkers, that my food choices are now in harmony with my belief system.

Today’s post is a basic introduction to the concept of carnism. For a more detailed analysis, refer to Joy’s book ‘Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows’ and Carnism Awareness & Action Network.

Notes

* Gene Baur, President and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, and author.

** John Robbins, author of  Diet for a New America and The Food Revolution

Ally

In My A-Z of Veganism series, I discuss and explore a topic or issue related to veganism, and my experiences as a vegan – as I work my way through the alphabet!

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